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Love Labours Lost

By Israel Shamir


(A response to Seumas Milne's article in the Guardian: "Slur of Anti-Semitism Used to Defend Repression", see below)

 

In civilised New York, a girl, eager to brush-off an insistent admirer, does not have to be rude. She slips him a phone number to call, and there, a recorded message informs him, 'the person you are calling does not wish to remain in contact with you. If you want to listen to a sad poem, press ONE, if you want to cling to unrealistic dream of reunion, press TWO, if you want to have counselling and advise, push THREE'.

The important article by the Guardian editor Mr Seumas Milne is a rejected lover's complaint. Apparently, he can't overcome his rejection by the Daughter of Zion. He laments the glorious days of their alliance: "since the French revolution, the fates of the Jewish people and the left have been closely intertwined. From the time of Marx, Jews played a central role across all shades of the left". Mr Milne and the Left are in need of some advice and counselling (push THREE).

Everything that has a beginning, Mr Milne, has an end as well. Before the French Revolution, the Jewish people supported despotism against aristocracy, and the Magna Carta was signed by King John despite their opposition. After Napoleon, the Jewish people had had a long alliance with the Left. It was long, but not forever. This alliance has been severed in the aftermath of failed 1968 revolution. After that time, the Jewish people built a new alliance, with Globalisation forces. One saw the new alliance in action when it supported victory of Margaret Thatcher, right-wing shift of Labour under Lord Levy's promoted Tony Blair, and in the US, the programme of Globalisation and World War Three ('clash of civilisation).

Give it a thought, Mr Milne: if Daughter of Zion could ally herself with the Left, why could not she change her partners? Should she be considered a permanently beneficial force, next to God Almighty? Jewish leadership benefited from the union with the Left as long as it was an aspiring force, struggling with traditional upper classes. After their aspirations were satisfied, they had no more interest in such an ally.

For thirty years, this major and obvious fact of the Jewish people's re-alliance was not sufficiently discussed in the Left. Like a ditched boyfriend, the Left hoped to re-forge the union of old. One of the reasons was a sentimental belief expressed by Mr Milne: "The left's appeal to social justice and universal rights created a natural bond with a people long persecuted and excluded by the Christian European establishment".

Why should one describe this relationship with the rich Jewish bankers and newspaper owners, who had supported the Left, as a 'natural bond' rather than a marriage of convenience? It was quite unnatural bond, formed against obvious class interests of the involved sides, and its collapse was inevitable. The Left accepted help of rich Jews, disregarding their motives. It paid a heavy price - alienation from working classes who had a long and painful history of Jew-Gentile relations, alienation from the church, uncompromising hostility of the upper classes. The Jews used the energy of the Left until it run out, and then, ditched it. Now, the Left could dial a phone number in New York, and listen to the pre-recorded message.


II

Mr. Milne objects to Jews calling the Left "anti-Semitic". He thinks the Left does not deserve it. But it is mainly a point of definition. In the eyes of Mr. Milne, 'anti-Semitism is an anti-Jewish racism", and its use, 'a slur'. In the Jewish eyes, 'anti-Semitism' is a policy counteracting the policy of the Jewish people. Thus, until 1968, the Right was 'anti-Semitic' by definition, as "the fates of the Jewish people and the left have been closely intertwined". After 1968, as time goes by, the anti-globalist Left (and Right), or environmentalist groups had become 'anti-Semitic' by definition. In 1953, McCarthy's Committee for anti-American activities was 'anti-Semitic', but in 2002, 'anti-American' means 'anti-Semitic', according to the Commentary, the main ideological Jewish American magazine.

In Russia of 1990s, which I covered for Haaretz daily, any movement against 'the market forces', for socialism and preservation of the Soviet Union was considered 'anti-Semitic". Anti-globalisation is 'anti-Semitic' as well as objection to the Zionist policies. Thus, anti-Semitic labelling is not a slur, but a definition of every policy at deviance with the present ideas of the Jewish people.

If you are NOT called an anti-Semite, you should immediately reconsider your writing, Mr Milne. But if you ARE called an anti-Semite, it does not mean too much: even Wolfowitz, the Jewish Zionist bigot hawk and supporter of Sharon, was booed as anti-Semite by even more fervent American Jews. Even Ariel Sharon, the mass murderer of Sabra and Shatila, of Qibya and Jenin, was relegated into 'anti-Semite lefties' by the bloody-minded supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu.

That is why there is no reason to incessantly apologise for offending sensibilities. The Left can accept the offered definition and to reply with a shrug while being called 'anti-Semitic', as it would certainly respond to accusations of 'anti-British' or 'anti-aristocratic' behaviour. The Jews are not Les MisÚrables any more; after 1960s, they occupy (in the US and Europe) a position similar to that of Brahmins in India. The Left should try to undo their supremacy, while preserving and using their talents and abilities.

Even more important, it should overcome its rejected lover syndrome and reassess its positions vis-Ó-vis the Jews in the light of Marxist teaching. Karl Marx (certainly not a biological Jew-hater) rejected his ties with the Jews, and called for emancipation of the world from Jews. Later, the Left chose to forget these words of Marx, but they could be brought back.

Mr Milne writes, "Jews remain disproportionately active in progressive political movements - including Palestinian solidarity groups - throughout the world". There is a big difference between Marx and many politically active Jews. Marx and Trotsky were descendents of Jews who embraced the cause of the working people and rejected that of the Jews. Certainly there are descendents of Jews who emulate their behaviour, for instance in the al-Awdah movement. But there are other Jews who act as Jewish emissaries "in the progressive political movements - including Palestinian solidarity groups". Their contribution is but damage limitation control. The war in Palestine caused these emissaries to reveal their hidden agenda and gave the Left a chance to reassert its cause.

The Left free from its emotional entanglement with the Jewish people should offer the Jews the same deal it offered after the French Revolution, namely, equality everywhere, including Palestine. Equality, not privilege. The Left fought aristocracy and other traditional ruling classes not for benefit of the Jewish privilege.

Mr Milne writes, "A two-state settlement (in the Middle East) is now the only possible way to secure peace in the foreseeable future". Au contraire, it is an impossible and unjust way, and it will never take place. The condition of equality means deconstruction of the exclusivist Jewish state and its transformation into a state of all its citizens, like other states. That is the way to peace, to justice and to new rise of the Left in Europe and the world.

This slur of anti-semitism is used to defend repression. Ending Israel's occupation will benefit Jews and Muslims in Europe
---------

Seumas Milne
Thursday May 9, 2002


The Guardian

Since the French revolution, the fates of the Jewish people and the left have been closely intertwined. The left's appeal to social justice and universal rights created a natural bond with a people long persecuted and excluded by the Christian European establishment. From the time of Marx, Jews played a central role across all shades of the left. They were heavily represented among the leaders of the Russian revolution - hence Hitler's denunciation of communism as a "Judaeo-Bolshevik conspiracy" - and the left-led underground resistance to the Nazis. It was the Red Army which liberated the Auschwitz death camp. In Britain, it was the left which fought to defend the Jewish East End of London from fascists in the 1930s. In the Arab world, Jews were crucial to the building of political parties of the left. And despite the changed class balance of many Jewish communities, Jews remain disproportionately active in progressive political movements - including Palestinian solidarity groups - throughout the world. But now the left stands accused of anti-semitism because of its opposition to Israel's military occupation and continuing dispossession of the Palestinians. As the Palestinian intifada and Israeli repression rage on, rightwing commentators and religious leaders have claimed the left is guilty of "anti-Jewish prejudice", double standards towards Israel and even apeing the anti-semitic "blood libels" of the Middle Ages with the ferocity of its charges of Israeli massacres. Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has widened the attack to the media and equated any questioning of Israel's legitimacy with "calling into question the Jewish people's right to exist collectively". In the US, the denunciation of the left over Israel has been extended to include the whole mainstream European political system. There is little question that there has been a growth of overt anti-semitism in Europe, especially since the collapse of European communism more than a decade ago. That trend has quickened since the start of the second intifada and Ariel Sharon's election as Israel's prime minister. In Britain, physical attacks on Jews have increased significantly - even if they remain far fewer than assaults on black, Asian and Muslim people - and now a London synagogue has been desecrated. With the far right on the march across the continent, it is hardly surprising that a community barely a couple of generations away from the most devastating genocide in human history feels beleaguered - a perception heightened by atrocities against civilians in Israel, such as Tuesday's suicide attack in Rishon Letzion.

No doubt some on the left have wrongly taken the comparative wealth and position of Britain's Jewish community as a sign that the social cancer of anti-semitism is somehow less dangerous than other forms of racism. The graveyards of Europe are a permanent reminder that it is not. The left is certainly not immune from racist currents in society; and it needs aggressively to police the line between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, taking into account Jewish sensitivities in the way it campaigns for justice in the Middle East. But none of that excuses the smear that left or liberal support for Palestinian rights is somehow connected to resurgent anti-Jewish racism - an absurd slur which is itself being used as an apologia for Israel's brutal war of subjugation in the occupied territories. All the evidence is that it is the far right, the traditional fount of anti-semitic poison, which has been overwhelmingly responsible for attacks on both Muslim and Jewish targets in Europe. Violence from the Islamist fringe no doubt also poses a threat, but not even in the wildest rantings of Israel's cheerleaders has it been suggested that any group on the left could have had anything to do with, say, the trashing of the Finsbury Park synagogue. Nor is it hostile media coverage that is fuelling criticism of Israel, but what is actually taking place on the ground in Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah.

The reality is that, contrary to the claims of the supporters of Israel's
35-year-old occupation, its existence as a state is not remotely in danger. Nor by any stretch of the imagination does it "stand alone", as some have insisted. Its security is guaranteed by the most powerful state in the world.

There is, however, a very real and present threat to the Palestinians, their national rights and even their very presence in what is left to them of Palestine. Evidence of serious Israeli breaches of the Geneva convention - war crimes - across the West Bank has been collected by human rights organisations in recent weeks. But Israel has been able to swat away the Jenin investigation team, ordered in by the UN security council, with impunity. To refuse to acknowledge these brute facts of power and injustice is itself a reflection of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia, both currently more violently represented on Europe's streets and more acceptable in its polite society than anti-semitism. For the left to ignore such oppression would be a betrayal. As the Zapatista leader Marcos has it, he is "a Jew in Germany, a Palestinian in Israel".

Last week, Dick Armey, the Republican leader in the US House of Representatives and a key Bush ally, called for Israel to annex the occupied erritories and expel the Palestinian inhabitants. In other words, he was proposing the ethnic cleansing of the Arab population. His remarks aroused little comment, but coming at a time when 40% of the Israeli public, as well as cabinet ministers, openly support such a "transfer", it can only be taken as encouragement by the most extreme elements in the Israeli establishment. Ethnic cleansing is not of course a new departure for Israel, whose forces twice organised large-scale expulsions of Palestinians, in 1948 and 1967 - as documented in the records and memoirs of Israeli leaders of the time - to secure a commanding Jewish majority in the territory under its control. But the refugees created in the process remain at the heart of the conflict. It was the tragedy of the Zionist project that Jewish self-determination could only be achieved at another people's expense.

A two-state settlement is now the only possible way to secure peace in the forseeable future. But for such a settlement to stick there will have to be some reversal of that historic ethnic cleansing. Those who insist there can be no questioning of the legitimacy of the state in its current form - with discriminatory laws giving a "right of return" to Jews from anywhere in the world, while denying it to Palestinians expelled by force - are scarcely taking a stand against racism, but rather the opposite. They are also doing no favours to Israelis. The latest suicide bombings have demonstrated the failure of Sharon's strategy for dismantling the infrastructure of terror. What is needed instead is a strategy to dismantle the infrastructure of occupation. Not only would that open the way to peace in the Middle East. It could also create the conditions for Muslims and Jews in Europe to realise their common interests.


s.milne@guardian.co.uk

 

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